22 October 2011

Occupy Carbondale: Reflections on a Week

Occupy Carbondale Sign Erected 15 Oct. 2011
What a crazy rollercoaster this last week has been.  On the Global Day of Action, a call put out by Occupy Wall St. for people worldwide to join the movement for economic justice and an end to the corporatization of our government, Occupy Carbondale was begun.

Occupiers setting up camp
After a march of solidarity with the Peace Coalition, we began setting up our occupation on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  We chose this location for a variety of reasons:

  • to align ourselves with the current labor disputes
  • to reach the student population
  • visibility at a major intersection
  • access to facilities at the gaia house
  • the campus is a protected free speech zone
The first few days went by without a hitch.  I mean, sure, it was a bit of a bumpy ride.  But forming a new community is always a bumpy ride.  The consensus process is long and messy; it's not a model we are familiar with in our culture of NOW.  It takes dedication and commitment, as well as the willingness to listen, really listen.

We do have a fun little provocateur, Frank, who started the Facebook Group "Being Against Occupy Carbondale." Mostly, he just drives by multiple times a night; noticeably, he only harasses us when he has friends with him.  Among their favourite tactics seem to be playing Rush Limbaugh out his window over a loud speaker, though tonight he switched it up to "What is Love," which was actually a refreshing change of pace.  They also threw a "care package" out of the window one night that included beef taquitoes (YUM!), a pair of panties, a pregnancy test, and Sarah Palin's book.  Of course, we appreciated the "donation," and proceeded to do a sexy group reading.

Though much of the movement is grounded in conversation and process, it certainly isn't as easy as it looks.  Learning how to be with one another is hard work.  We're making up our own rules from scratch, figuring out how to provide for each other, care for each other, and move forward with a new logic of radical democracy.  The conversations are challenging; the people are amazing.  With each passing day, it feels like we become more like a big family - a constantly shifting, growing, and changing family, but a family nonetheless.  I can't lie, much of my heart is occupied with occupy.

Unfortunately, at 5.30am Wednesday morning, the campus police woke us up.  It was about 38-39 degrees at the time, and raining.  They demanded we take down our tents.  Time frame?  Now.  Can we have some time to talk?  No.  The whole day was incredibly intense; I'm still not sure how to process all of what happened other than to say that I'm still emotionally exhausted.  I'm the kind of person who cries when I get pulled over for a broken brake light, and there I was, resisting police directives. Instead of typing the whole thing out right now (I have a shift outside in 15mins), here's a video that shows some of what happened.

In the end, the University is demanding that we not sleep in the "demonstration area" (which they do not define), because apparently sleeping on campus is not allowed... even though there are no rules about sleeping, nor about tents on campus, anywhere in the University Policy.  In fact, the Demonstration Policy at SIUC reads like this:
"The university is a community dedicated to intellectual development by the process of rational thought and to the freedom of expression of ideas and opinions. It is a community that not only tolerates dissent; it welcomes responsible dissent and discourse on the issues of our time. Southern Illinois University has historically stood in this tradition.
Freedom is indivisible, and recognition of this fact is paramount to the maintenance of the open university community. Freedom to protest by lawful means must and will be protected by all the authority available to the university. However, when actions of individuals or groups interfere with the legitimate rights of others and are directed at the disruption of the normal processes of university life, they must and will be resisted."
 In the end, we believe that the University violated it's own policy, especially since the administration used threats of "immediate suspension for students caught sleeping" as a coercive measure in their attempt to make us disperse.  It seems quite clear that their tactics were an attempt to root us out.

In response to the University, our General Assembly passed this statement  tonight:
"Democratic space is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week phenomena. A common view of democracy denigrates democracy as something that happens once every so often when the citizens gather to express their opinions via ballots. Occupy Carbondale believes that this perspective is both dangerous to democracy, and completely incorrect. In our experiment establishing democratic spaces, we feel that the activities of life; including protest, conversation, group decision making, eating, sleeping, and working are all vital components of democracy. We believe that democracy is a grand experiment, and we demand the right to practice the creation of democratic space on all public lands, including the activities necessary to protect the health and safety of all of our demonstrators as we see fit. In our current situation, this means that we believe that sleep is a part of the content of our speech."
Their attempts to break us down clearly didn't work.  Spirits are higher than ever, in fact, and we have had more support in the past couple of days than we did in our first four.  We're almost a full week old now, and we're making progress, even if that just looks like itty-bitty baby steps at the moment.

I'm so proud to be a part of this movement, this community, and this on-going conversation.

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